Monday 16 January 2017

Videocart-1 (Fairchild Channel F review)

Developer: Fairchild
Publisher: Fairchild
Released: 1976

Videocart-1 consists of four titles and has the distinction of being the first programmable ROM cartridge in videogame history.

In Tic-Tac-Toe you play on a 3x3 grid and the winner is the first person to place three X's or O's in a row. The gameplay is mildly entertaining for a few goes but unfortunately there's no multiplayer. In single player, it's impossible to lose as you always move first allowing you to capture the top-corners for a quick win. A respectable rendition of the classic game but limited replayability. In Shooting Gallery the object is to hit as many targets as possible against the clock. Your rifle icon changes position after each hit and ricochets are frequently required. It's purely skill-based and combines split-second accuracy for some surprisingly enjoyable action; in fact, it reminds me of trick-shots in snooker! The timer adds some tension and there's even turn-based multiplayer. A simple, but addictive twitch-style game. Doodle is a sketching application with three colours and five pen sizes. The controls are okay but it's difficult to move diagonally with precision. There's also an issue when you stop drawing, as taking control of the cursor to move to another position overwrites part of what you've just sketched. Neat for the time but more of a novelty nowadays. Quadra-Doodle is a kaleidoscopic application where the computer creates patterns on-screen. It requires minimal input and your only participation is changing the background colour or line size. After a short while the overuse of lines spanning across three colours begins to look garish and cluttered to the point where it hurts your eyes! The patterns are randomised though and I like that you can import them into Doodle mode. However, it's pretty pointless these days unless you're really, really bored!
Videocart-1 is a sluggish first step in the Fairchild Channel F's library, as three quarters of what it has to offer is marginally entertaining at best. Still, Shooting Gallery is definitely worth playing if you're a fan of early Arcade blasters and its focus on multiplayer gives it a competitive edge that's missing in the cartridge's other titles.
Random trivia: In 1978, German electronics company SABA released a translated version of the cartridge alongside the console's launch in Germany.

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